Saturday, March 26, 2011


Although my husband and I dated for seven years, and have been married now for 29 more, I still find it helpful, from time to time, to test the strength of our relationship by enduring some unexpected challenges. These can be used as a barometer, of sorts, in determining if one's marriage is actually going to last.  I thought it might be helpful to others if I shared some of the useful information that we have developed in this area, to provide them with a framework with which they can test the durability of their own relationships, for future reference.
First, it is necessary for you both to develop some type of health issue that will force the two to be off work together for a period of, at least, four to six weeks. Try to accomplish this during the winter months, perhaps in the state of Michigan, so that you will find yourselves together constantly; indoors. Additionally, it will be necessary that both your conditions cause you some type of pain, so that you can be assured that the elements of irritability and crankiness are present for the entire test period.
Next it is important that the house you live in should be in need of some general repairs which, of course, you will not be able to implement due to the above mentioned pain factor you are experiencing.  This will enable you to increase your levels of frustration as you both sit side by side DISCUSSING the many repairs you could be doing, while still not actually being able to DO any of them. This is very important to your test, so be sure to include this aspect when creating your own challenging scenario.
Now, you must have one of your home appliances malfunction.  I would recommend the dryer, like we used in our own test, because a myriad of other annoying circumstances will occur stemming from the loss of this appliance. These are things that you cannot always count on with, say, the loss of your dishwasher.  Being unable to use your dryer will force you to hang all your freshly washed laundry indoors, (since, hopefully, it is winter in Michigan), thus making your house extraordinarily messy and unsightly, which is very helpful for purposes of this test. Also, the clothes that you have not been able to hang outdoors, to sway in the gentle breezes that both soften and dry them, will become very stiff and uncomfortable making them quite unpleasant to wear. Even after showering or bathing you will be able to keep your frustration level high by drying yourself off with towels guaranteed to scratch  and chafe, due to their sandpaper-like texture. 
Finally, the most important element of this test is that neither one of you be particularly adept at home appliance repairs, so that the duration of this situation will be sure to be a long one.  To help further your efforts it is a good idea to go to the library where you can borrow an outdated book on easy and cheap home appliance repairs. This will make the actual repair itself take much longer and difficult to complete, as the information provided will not address the problems of your newer model of dryer, but only of much older ones, which will add to your confusion. 
In our case, it took somewhere between 10 days to 2 weeks to fix our dryer, (I am unsure because I had clothes hanging up that were blocking my view of our calendar), and I am happy to say that we both survived the challenge intact.  I believe this is due in large part to my husband's surprisingly pleasant demeanor during this period, rather than my own, which was somewhat less than charming.  I guess the true test of a relationship's longevity does not always lie in the ability to deal with life's most heartbreaking challenges; under those circumstances most of us will find that we can rise to the occasion and behave with great tenderness and compassion.  I believe, rather, it is in the couple's ability to handle life's minor mishaps with grace and humor, which will determine if your marriage will be a lasting one.  As for my husband and myself, the results of our experiment have reassured me that the prospects look good that we will be making it to our 30th anniversary.  I think my job here is done now.  I am off to wash some clothes that I plan, with great joy and excitement, on putting in our clothes dryer, along with one of those AMAZING, fabric-softening dryer sheets!!!!

Monday, March 21, 2011


A few years back I found myself embroiled in a heated argument with my daughters. Today, I can no longer recall what our disagreement was about, or what they said during that argument which caused me to adopt one of the phrases that my mother had, so often, said to me as a child, but that is exactly what happened.  Whatever was said, left me both incredulous and annoyed, and, so, just as my mother had done to me, I asked them all if they were out of their gourds.  I do remember that they asked me to repeat myself, and I did so, with great exasperation.
"Are you girls OUT OF YOUR GOURDS????" I said, and then stomped out of the room.
Later that day I could hear giggling, and, when I inquired as to what they were laughing at, I discovered it was the phrase that I had used.
"What exactly does that mean?" they asked. "Is that like saying, are you crazy or something?"
"Yes, of course." I answered, although now I, too, was amused   I thought about it for a minute, and then realized that even I couldn't explain the origin of the expression.  It was just something my mother would say to us as children, and somehow it had withstood the test of time.  The phrase had wormed its way in from my mother's generation into my own, AND, I am delighted to say, has now found a place for itself in  the vocabulary of a third generation.  I find myself hoping that it makes its way down through many more generations to come, for that will mean that a little piece of my mother's spirit will always live on in our family, even when she, herself, is no longer with us.
I think that every family has phrases like that.  I remember when I first married my husband and he asked me if I needed him to, "pass the sweeper."
After ascertaining that a "sweeper" was, indeed, a vacuum, I chuckled to myself and then said, "Pass the sweeper?  I don't think so...isn't that painful?"   For whatever reason, that expression didn't have much of a shelf life, and now I am the only person whoever repeats it... and then only for purposes of my own amusement.
There were many other sayings though; some pearls of wisdom and some just inexplicable, that my husband and I  brought along with us, on our journey from children to adults.  They often popped out when we least expected them, but, once said, became as familiar to our children as they had been to ourselves.  Some are the wise old sayings that everyone uses, while others are definitely unique to each of our own  families. Whenever I hear one of my children use them though, I am, at once, both amused and pleased to know that they have become part of their vernacular.
Hearing them say things such as, "The secret of success is to know when to quit", or "Swearing just reflects a person's limited vocabulary," will always remind me of my own mother, while, "Put on a, ( please insert appropriate item of clothing such as, hat, coat or socks), or you will catch your death of cold" and "close the light," will always remind me of Dave's.  My family has added a few of our own words to the growing list, over the years as well.  The term, "little," which I first used instead of the child's name when speaking about one of my preschoolers, has now become a regular term of endearment whenever one of us are referring to any small child, in general. (For example, "I saw the cutest little today when I was shopping.")  My daughter, Jamie, also made a great contribution a few years back with her; "Two rudes don't make a polite," which we all now utilize from time to time.
There is something very comforting about hearing these old familiar sayings from our childhoods, as well as the more recent ones that we have added to the list.  To me, they all reflect a link back to the loving family that they originated with...and they will carry, forever within them, the memories of the time we shared together; tucked safely inside each and every one of the words.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Last week, when reading my latest issue of Time magazine, I came across an article concerning the State of Utah.  The article opened by stating, "The Beehive State is.....".  Unfortunately, I cannot even relay to you what the rest of the article was about, because I kept finding myself wondering why any state would want to be known as  the Beehive State.  As a Michigander, Michigan will always be, to me, best known as  the Great Lakes State.  We have other nicknames as well, such as the Winter Water Wonderland, along with the Mitten State, and while both of these nicknames are nice, of the three, I think the title of the Great Lakes State conjures up the most beautiful of all the images.  It has always been my assumption that a state nickname is used not really to identify the state, but rather to express the features about it that were most likely to draw in tourists.  For example, when I think of the Great Lakes State the image that comes to mind is of a warm, sandy beach, nestled against one of our many, vast and beautiful lakes. I can see the waves rolling gently towards the shore...with the reflection of our bright summer sunshine, creating a sea of sparkling diamonds mirrored on its surface.  I am reminded of the gentle breezes that flowed from off those waters; tousling my hair. I remember, too, the sounds of happy children as they played along the beach.  Those are the kinds of images that a nickname should bring to mind; not the ones created when I contemplated the name, the Beehive State.
What I thought of, with that particular nickname, was reading a pamphlet that I had received with my antibiotics this past November, which stated that one of its multiple uses happened to be the prevention and treatment of Malaria.  Since Malaria sounded far more exotic than the ordinary respiratory infection I believed I had I, of course, decided to switch conditions and contract Malaria instead.  I read the pamphlet further to garner any other useful information it might contain regarding this condition but, much to my dismay, it just had a colorless, boring warning that stated, "To prevent Malaria, one should avoid being bitten by mosquitoes."     Immediately I decided that I could do a much better job as a writer of warning labels, and the first one that I devised was one about bees. My warning would read, "To avoid being stung by a swarm of angry bees DO NOT, under any circumstances,  pick up a beehive in both hands and shake it vigorously, while, simultaneously, shouting insulting remarks about their queen!"   Although I still consider that to be a far more interesting warning than the one written about Malaria, (and apparently very useful to bear in mind should one happen to find themselves in Utah), I do not feel that it should be the first thing one thinks of, upon hearing Utah's nickname.
That made me wonder if other states had odd nicknames, so I took it upon myself to research the subject, and I discovered some interesting results.  While many states have more than one nickname, California, for example, is known as both the Sunshine State, as well as the Cereal Bowl of the Nation, I am only including the more unusual titles that my research uncovered. Consider if you will Delaware, which  is the Chemical State, and Florida, known also as the Alligator State.  Or how about North Carolina,  the Turpentine State, and Tennessee, which boasts the nickname, the Hog and Hominy State.  On the other hand a few that I found more charming were New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes and Washington, the Evergreen State.  Kansas had an unique nickname too; the Home of Beautiful Women.  That name didn't particularly make me want to vacation there, but it did make me resent the fact that Michigan hadn't thought of using the name first.
In any case, I like Michigan's nickname the best, and not just because I reside here.  I just feel very strongly that I do not want to live, or visit, in a state, which considers its best feature to be its abundance of angry bees, or high quality turpentine.
***Cautionary note to reader...Be very careful when contracting pretend Malaria from reading a pamphlet.  In my case if was very hard to cure, and eventually required a visit to the hospital emergency room. Since I was already acquainted with the emergency room doctor, having met him the year before when he treated my husband for non-pretend broken ribs sustained from falling off a ladder, I felt at ease explaining about my condition.  He listened with interest as I told him how my respiratory illness had led to my contracting Malaria, and then he asked me to describe my symptoms.   I stated that, upon every inhalation of breath, I felt as if the blade of a very sharp dagger, which had been heated in the burning coals of  Hell, was being thrust into my chest, through my lungs and then out my back.  He pondered this for a moment, and then decided that a chest ex-ray was in order.  When he returned with my results I was quite surprised when he informed me that my pretend Malaria was actually real pneumonia and pleurisy.  The lesson I learned from this was that one should exercise great caution when choosing an ailment from the multiple choices provided in their antibiotic pamphlet. Apparently, some pretend conditions are just more difficult to treat, than others. ***Additional note: I am pleased to say, that, following my description of my symptoms, the doctor asked me if I happened to be a writer. :D

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


People that know me well and even those who only know me slightly, quickly come to the conclusion that I am, occasionally, prone to mishaps.  I was reminded of this point recently when I mentioned to my friend Michael, how a few years ago I was impaled by my garden rake; a story he was unfamiliar with.  Frankly, I think most people are accident-prone, but perhaps, due to the colorful nature of my misadventures, they tend to stick out more in people's minds; such as slipping on a piece of bologna and injuring my knee while having an argument with my husband.  Or the time when my two dogs, five and ten pound Yorkipoos, had recovered so completely from the major knee surgery that they had recently undergone, that they fancied themselves to be sled dogs competing in the Alaskan Iditarod...and I was the sled.  The result of this particular incident was that I was rudely upended on an icy patch in front of my neighbor's driveway, while the pups went on to successfully finish the race without me.  Thankfully, it was very dark out at the time, and I was able to stumble back to the house without any of the neighbors noticing. (or even my ungrateful sled dogs)  Unfortunately, the day I impaled my foot on my garden rake the screaming sirens from the emergency vehicles that roared up to my home created a little more notice.
It was early in June, one of the first days of summer vacation, and I had decided that the garden in front of my house was in need of a little maintenance. To help me in my endeavors I decided to utilize the 25 year old garden rake that we had in our garage; the kind that resembles a barber's comb on a pole but is made of thick metal tines, instead of plastic.  I was wearing my newly purchased flip flops that I had acquired, at great cost to myself, from the local dollar store. My front garden has a short wooden border surrounding it, and I had stepped up on it to admire my handiwork. Unfortunately, I had laid my garden rake down on the ground directly next to the outside of the border, tine-side up, when I unexpectedly, slipped off the wooden border and my foot landed on the rake. I felt a sharp stabbing pain in my foot, and when I looked down, I noticed that my flip flop had slid sideways and I now had a tine from the rake protruding through the upper part of my foot. The shock of this development caused me to sit down abruptly, as I examined my foot and the garden rake that was now attached to it. It did not look good.
My daughter Holly and her friend Stephanie, had been about to embark on a bike ride when the incident occurred, and Holly called up to me from the bottom of driveway to see if I was alright.
"I think you better go get Dad." I called to her. "I seem to have impaled my foot on our garden rake."
Holly went into the house to alert Dave, and Stephanie walked over to check on me.  Her reaction was immediate.
"Oh my God." she shouted.  "You have a garden rake stuck through your foot! You have a garden rake stuck through your foot!" she said, as best I can remember.
She ran into the house to let Holly know that my injury was a little more serious than what they had imagined, and, as she did so, she accidentally released one of the dogs out of the house. This resulted in the pup racing down our hilly front lawn, so he could begin menacing a woman and her dog who had the unfortunate timing to be walking by my house just then.
"Steph, go get Teddy.  He is trying to attack that dog, and I can't get up to stop him." I yelled.
Stephanie ran back out of the house, and approached the woman.  Instead of grabbing our misbehaving pup though, I could hear her inquiring if the woman was familiar with what one should do if you are impaled with a garden rake while doing yard work.  Eventually, she reclaimed my dog and things calmed down slightly.
At around this time Dave and Holly came out of the house and assessed the situation.
Dave asked the question that he would continue to ask for the duration of the whole ordeal.
"How did you do this??  Whenever you see someone step on a rake, during a Three Stooges episode, the handle always swings back up up and hits them in the head!!!  How did you get the rake stuck in your foot?"  I was beginning to feel nauseous, so I didn't offer any explanation.
Holly asked if she should call 911, and of course, like any person who has a garden rake impaled through their foot, I told her emphatically that she should not.  Much to my surprise though, a gentlemen that had been jogging through our sub and who happened to be a physician's assistant, came bounding up our lawn and advised her to do so immediately.  By chance, he had just passed the woman and the dog whom Stephanie had just posed the surprising rake question to, and knowing of his medical background she had asked him if he was familiar with what one did when someone has just been impaled with a garden rake. Fortunately for me he did; you don't try and pull it out by yourself!
I would just like to mention here, that throughout all of these events I never resorted to profanity, yelling or crying.  I did however, begin to sweat a lot, start to feel faint, and wish that Dave would stop asking me why the rake hadn't just hit me in the head like it was supposed to.
Within minutes an ambulance arrived.  Along with the first two paramedics that joined me were now, quite a few neighbors who had been otherwise unoccupied, prior to my impalement.  I explained to the paramedic that I had a strong suspicion that I was going to throw up, and like an angel, he told me to regulate my breathing, and to hold still, while he inserted an IV line that he would be filling with morphine.  Things began to look more promising.  Since we did not have an IV stand at the house, my neighbors took turns holding the morphine bag, to allow for the drip.  Of all the acts of kindness demonstrated by my many neighbors present that night, that was my favorite.
Along about this time a second emergency vehicle arrived, and another paramedic raced up the hill with a stretcher.  He  let go of it when he reached the top, in order to check on my condition, and for a moment, time seemed to stand still.  This was because our interest had been diverted as we all looked on in surprise, as the stretcher picked up speed as it went rolling back down my front lawn and across the street. Even in my present condition I was thinking how happy I was that I had not been on it at the time.
Now that I was feeling more jovial, thanks  to my morphine drip, I listened with interest as the paramedics asked the neighbor men that had joined our group, what they each thought might be the best way in which to saw off the rake handle, so I could be transported in the ambulance.
Since Holly felt that this was something they should already know she politely said to them, "Excuse me...I don't mean to be rude, but you don't seem to know what you are doing.  I don't think you should be taking care of my mother, if you don't know what you are doing."
"Holly," I whispered. "Don't be impolite. They have my morphine."
After a great deal of discussion the men in the group decided that a special saw was needed that could cut through metal.  The plan was made that someone, who happened to be Dave, would lay on the ground holding the rake handle straight up, while sparks came dangerously close to setting his hair on fire, as they cut off the offending tine from the remainder of the rake.  This would still leave the tine impaled in my foot but allow them to transport me to the hospital for its removal.
This plan seemed to be working well until the metal saw, which was cutting through metal, caused the tine inside my foot to heat up resulting in more pain than even the morphine could suppress. 
"Ow, ow, ow. " I said, in a semi-quiet voice, so as not to alarm the children that had gathered.  "I have a brand new pain in my foot now for some reason."  Someone immediately poured water over everything, and the searing hot pain began to subside.
Eventually the rake was sawed off and I was transported safely to the hospital.  I do remember the paramedics commenting about my heart rate being somewhat irregular, but when I explained that I had consumed several mountain dews that day, not to mention having had a rake impale my foot, they appeared to be satisfied.
At the hospital I was treated as quite a curiosity, as onlookers studied my foot and the large metal tine that was protruding from it. I also remember, that when the doctor said that he was going to give me several injections to numb my foot and it might be painful,  I laughed a little at him.
"Please..." I said. "You are talking to a woman whose foot has just been impaled by a garden rake.  Do you really think a few Lidocaine shots are going to bother me?"  This was followed by the five most excruciating shots I have ever received, and that is after having had a steady supply of morphine, beforehand. This was the one and only time during my whole ordeal, that I did resort to mild profanity.
After I had received my shots, soaked my foot in some sort of antiseptic, and had them uneventfully, remove the tine from my foot, the doctor gave it to me as a souvenir. I immediately went to place it in the back pocket of my jeans.
"Are you crazy?" was Dave's reply.  "What do you want to do next...impale your ass?"  I thought him rather rude, but I did hand the metal tine over to him, for safekeeping.  Consider this all to be a cautionary tale for the future...never underestimate the dangers involved in gardening.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Whenever people ask me how I like living in a small town, after having grown up in the city, my answer is always the same; it's pretty much exactly how you would expect it to be.  All the wonderful aspects of living in a close-knit community hold true, and so do all the disadvantages. We are blessed to have met some of the finest people I have ever known, and our children have benefited greatly from the interest they have taken in our family. On the other hand, when your electricity goes out your water doesn't work you can't flush your toilets; a concept that took me about five years to fully grasp.
Every time we would lose power I would find myself saying, "What the heck...why isn't the water going on?" and then my husband would have to remind me that we have a well... and wells require a pump... and pumps require electricity etc., etc., etc.  After 14 years I am finally starting to get the idea though, and if the weather even hints at the possibility that there might be a power outage I fill buckets of water immediately, in advance of the event.
Another interesting situation I had never dealt with in the city was having a driveway that was on a steep incline.  When we first moved to our home we owned two full-sized conversion vans, and all was well until the first snow fall hit.  I still remember my complete and utter shock when, as I was pulling up the driveway with a carload full of groceries, my vehicle, which I had in drive, suddenly went into reverse and rolled back down the driveway.
"What the heck?' I said again. "Why is my car going in reverse when I have it in drive?'  I immediately redoubled my efforts and attempted to get up the driveway by accelerating harder. The end result of this particular idea was that it took less time for my van to roll back down the driveway, than it did when I was driving slower. After several more attempts I admitted defeat.  I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to clear the driveway in order to reach the top of it. I parked the van at the end of the driveway, climbed what now appeared to be the mountain that led to our garage, and got the snow blower out to begin my task. Unfortunately, since the driveway  had not gotten any less steep in the time it took me to get out the snow blower, the snow blower and I suffered the same fate as my van, and we slid down together to the bottom of the driveway.  I now found myself looking longingly at my cozy house, along with my van, my groceries and my snow blower, wondering why we had not noticed how steep our driveway was before we purchased our home. Finally, in a flash of brilliance, I hit upon the solution; I got out one of the girls' sleds.  It only took about 27 trips up and down the driveway to unload the couple of hundred dollars worth of groceries I had purchased, and I considered it a moral victory. 
I have learned many useful things from living out in the country, such as having your children go to college to learn the art of repairing wells as their chosen career.  It has been my experience that it is an extraordinarily lucrative field and one that doesn't suffer layoffs, regardless of the economic climate.  An additional choice would be septic field cleaning.  Never underestimate the value the public places on being able to hire someone else to do that particular job.
Yes, living in a small town is pretty much what you expect it to be; both the good and the bad.  In the end though, there is no doubt that the positive far outweighs the negative.  You find you make friends very quickly in a small town. Your neighbors are over in a blink of an eye to help you push your snow blower back up the driveway, and then, later, you get to laugh about it together when you bring over the fresh baked cookies you made to thank them for their help.